Running through the woods, branches slapping his face. Jumping logs, dodging rocks. Twisting and turning through the trees. The staccato rhythm of his feet hitting the ground. Eyes forward, ears filled with the rapid thump-thump-thump of his heartbeat. Deep, heaving breaths; in and out, in and out.
*Gotta run faster. Have to make it in time.*
Distance stretches out before him. Feet feel like lead, world pressing down on him. Hard to breathe, hard to move. The world stands still. Progress slows to a crawl. Distant sounds echo eerily in the dim light.
Still, he runs.
Suddenly, a clearing. Two figures before him. One kneeling, one standing. A flash of blue, of silver hair. A feral grin and madness lurking in brown eyes. Gun held to silver temple; a single shot like thunder.
Silver now coated in blood, blue eyes staring sightlessly at the sky. A graceless slump, dead weight.
He screams, soundless. He tries to move, but his body won’t obey. Insane, dark eyes turn to him, mocking, laughing. Another shot, this one like lightning through him. He staggers.
The figure splits, and his father stands before him, disappointment and rage covering his face. Blows rain down, four fists and four feet swinging, laughter and curses mixing together in his ears.
The blows stop. He looks, and he is alone. No body, nobody. Bloodstain on the dead leaves.
He looks down, and he is naked. A sudden presence. Body bent over, hands, too many hands, holding him down. Vision blurred and blocked. Swish of a belt through loops. Press of a body behind him, too close, too intimate. Whispered voice in his ear, promises of terrible things to come. Hideous caresses, mocking laughter.
He fights, but it’s hopeless. Strength fails, training fails. Panic, bright and hot, bursts into being. He can’t breathe. He can’t think. Pain, supernova in the darkness, unending and terrible, twisting in him, consuming him.
He falls, down, down, down, into agony, into despair so deep there is no bottom.
He falls, and there is no one left to catch him.
Tony gasped as he awoke suddenly, terrified eyes flung open wide as the echo of his screams faded. He didn’t know where he was or what was happening, but the panic burning in his belly told him to move, move, move. He struggled to untangle himself from the blankets, his movements sharp and jerky.
A hand on his shoulder almost stopped his heart, and suddenly he was fighting with all his strength, still half-lost in his nightmare.
“Get off me! Don’t touch me!”
“DiNozzo, stand down. It’s just me!”
Confused hazel eyes met worried blue ones, and it was only then that Tony realized where he was. He stopped struggling and sagged back into the bed, panting for breath. He reached up with his right hand and grabbed Gibbs’ arm, fingers digging in as he held on for dear life.
“Boss! I thought… I saw…”
He was shaking, sweat soaking through his clothes and streaking down his face. He felt Gibbs untangle the blankets from around him, scanning him as he looked down before letting out a fiery string of curses.
“Don’t move, DiNozzo. You’re bleeding. I’m just going to check your dressing. Let’s hope you didn’t pop your stitches or Ducky’ll have both our hides.”
Tony’s hand tightened on Gibbs’ forearm, his whole body stiffening in protest. He pulled in deep, ragged breaths, eyes locked on Gibbs. When Gibbs tried to disengage Tony’s hand, the younger man let out a sound of protest and brought his other hand to bear, grabbing Gibbs’ other wrist.
He was shaking, unable to calm down. I can’t let him leave; I’ve got to keep him safe.
He shuddered as bits of his nightmare flittered through his mind’s eye. Seeing Gibbs dead on the ground and hearing Chip’s haunting, maniacal laughter was one of the worst things his subconscious had ever dredged up for him. As for the rest of it… it’s too much.
Tony was truly panicking now, memories old and new colliding in his mind and driving him into a frenzy. Some dim part of him, detached and rational, realized that it was just a nightmare, that Chip was dead and his father out of the picture for years now and all of this was just a reaction to the trauma of the last several days. That part, however, was not strong enough or loud enough to drown out the rest of him that was on the verge of a major meltdown.
He felt himself being lifted into a sitting position as Gibbs slid into the bed behind him, his long legs extending around the younger man’s hips. Two strong arms came around him, twisting in his death grip to settle on each side of him and pull him back into Gibbs’ chest, the back of his head on his Boss’s shoulder.
“It’s okay, Tony. You’re okay. Just breathe. Breathe with me.”
Tony could feel Gibbs’ chest rise and fall behind him, and he tried his best to match his breathing to the older man’s. Slowly but surely his gasps quieted and his breathing slowed. His shaking began to calm until only the occasional tremor rippled through him.
“You wanna talk about it?”
Tony could hear Gibbs’ words rumble through his chest as he spoke. If he’d been able to, he would have leapt out of the bed in embarrassment, but the sudden rise and fall of adrenaline left him too tired to fight his way out of Gibbs’ embrace. Still, he tensed, and he knew Gibbs felt it.
“Hey, I get it, Tony. This isn't my first rodeo. You've got nothing to be ashamed of.”
Gibbs’ voice in Tony's ear was quiet, low, and soothing. His arms were strong and stabilizing, his posture relaxed but confident. Tony could practically feel the other man's strength and reassurance seeping into him. He felt a tiny bit of the tension slip out of him and found himself surprised to realize that he didn't want to move. It was the most comfort he could ever remember receiving from another human being.
“I… I had a nightmare, Boss.”
“Yeah, I kinda gathered that based on the screaming and the broken lamp, Tony.”
Broken lamp? Oh, crap, now I'm breaking the Bossman's stuff!
“Relax, Tony; it's just a lamp. It must've been a pretty intense nightmare to get you worked up like this.”
They lapsed into silence. Gibbs seemed content to wait Tony out, and Tony tried to organize his thoughts in a way that made sense. Thinking about the nightmare made him tense up again, but Gibbs just whispered more reassurances and held him, letting him ride it out. His patience paid off, because Tony found himself opening up to the older man after a few minutes.
“I dreamed we were back in the park, but we were separated. I was running through the woods looking for you. When I finally found you, you were on your knees and Chip was standing over you with a gun to your head. He looked at me, laughed, and pulled the trigger. I watched him murder you, Boss.”
Tony shuddered then, the sick feeling in his stomach twisting at the memory. He took comfort in the feeling of Gibbs behind him and around him, reassuring himself that the other man was still alive and well, feeling his heartbeat and listening to his breathing.
“I tried to get to you, but I couldn’t move. Chip turned and shot me. Then… then my father showed up. They both started beating me, then they were suddenly gone. So was your body, but I could still see the bloodstains on the ground.”
Tony stopped talking, his mind recoiling from the next part of the dream. I don’t know if I can talk about this.
“What else, Tony?”
Of course he knows there’s more. Can’t hide anything from him, not like this.
Tony sighed and shrugged, not sure how to put the rest of it into words.
“You don’t have to tell me, Tony, but it’s not going to just go away because you want it to. You’ll have to talk about it eventually.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty rich coming from you, Boss. I’ve seen bank vaults more open than you.”
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Tony was wishing he could stuff them back in and swallow them. Gibbs survival rules 101, DiNozzo: don’t goad the grizzly bear.
There was silence for a few moments before Gibbs finally replied.
“I’m a hard-nosed bastard, Tony, and I’ve never denied that fact. It makes me good at my job; it’s also the reason why I’ve been divorced three times. Shutting people out may keep me safe, but it’s a lonely way to go through life. That may work for me now, but sooner or later it will catch up to me if I don’t learn to bend a little. Don’t make the same mistakes I’ve made.”
Well, that was not the response I was expecting.
They lapsed into silence again, Tony deep in thought. He knew that Gibbs had a point, but he still wasn’t sure if he could make the words come. We’ll have to talk about this eventually, and it’s not like he doesn’t already know the truth. Might as well get it over with.
“Suddenly there was somebody behind me, and then I was bent over and hands were holding me down. I couldn’t see, but I could hear and feel him press up against me. He took his belt off and whispered… things… in my ear. I knew what was coming, but I couldn’t stop it. I fought, but they were too strong. My clothes were gone. I fought, I swear I fought, Boss.”
Tony was breathing hard again, trembling in the older man’s grip as he remembered. He heard Gibbs’ voice in his ear - I know, Tony, I know you did; it’s okay, you’re okay; I’m here and they aren’t; breathe with me, Tony - calming him, keeping him grounded. Gibbs moved them side to side, rocking them both gently as he soothed. Slowly, slowly, Tony rode out the newest panic attack until he felt his heart settle and his breathing ease.
He felt wrung out and exhausted, too worn down to worry about embarrassment. He shifted in Gibbs’ grip, not to escape but to make himself more comfortable, and sighed wearily.
“That’s pretty much it, Boss. I remember falling, and then I was awake.” Tony wasn’t stupid; he’d only described that part of the dream in the vaguest way possible to still get the point across. He knew that Gibbs would most likely have questions, but right now that was as far as he was willing to go.
“After all the crap you’ve been through this past week, I’m not surprised that you’re having nightmares. I’ve had my fair share of them myself.”
“You have?” Tony asked, shocked. Wasn’t expecting to hear him say that. This day has been full of surprises.
“Yeah. Keep seeing Chip whipping you with that belt or dreaming that Chip killed you before I could stop him. Sometimes he shoots you, sometimes he beats you to death, sometimes he stabs you and you bleed out. No matter what I do, I’m not fast enough. Barely got any sleep those three days you were out. Ducky had to slip me something in my coffee to get me to sleep before the nurses did it for him.”
Tony absorbed that revelation in silence, thinking through what Gibbs had shared with him. He’d seen enough action as a cop and an agent to interpret the signs. A traumatic experience that produces nightmares, trouble sleeping, anger, irritability, anxiety, flashbacks… yeah, we’ve got PTSD alright.
It was to be expected, and Tony knew that they had both been down this road before, but it still sucked. He wasn’t sure whether or not to point it out to Gibbs and decided that it could wait until morning. Gibbs seems different since Friday night, even before Chip showed up. Something’s definitely changed between us. Seems to be a good thing, but I’m not sure how far it goes. Don’t want to push him too hard just yet.
Honestly, Tony had never seen this side of Gibbs before, had never even imagined that this version of Gibbs could even exist. He wondered briefly if this is what Gibbs had been like before Shannon and Kelly were killed and promptly slammed the lid on that thought before his tongue could betray him by asking. He was pretty sure the subject was off-limits. Bringing it up seemed more than moderately suicidal.
It’s only fair, I suppose. I’ve certainly changed since he caught me at my storage unit. Never dreamed I would ever tell Gibbs my secrets, and yet here we are. All in all, Gibbs holding me while I freak out about a nightmare isn’t even the strangest thing to have happened this past week. In fact, I’m pretty sure we’ve already done something similar already. Not sure that I want this to be our new normal, but it’s kinda nice to have somebody to lean on.
Tony yawned then, and he felt his eyes drift closed, surrounded by the warmth and scent of Gibbs. He wanted to say something to acknowledge Gibbs’ disclosure of his own nightmares, but the panic attacks had chewed up any rest he’d gotten and left him dog-tired. He mumbled something, he wasn’t sure what, as sleep pulled at him.
He felt Gibbs’ rumbled words as he faded out, drawing the barest twitch of a smile across his face.
“Get some rest, Tony. I’ll be here when you wake up.”